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A Mental Health Counselor’s Guide to Social Media Use

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The main function of social media channels is more than just to connect with old friends, classmates or family members living far away. Nowadays, platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and even LinkedIn are the main channels for brands and small businesses to advertise their goods and services. This is also true for freelancers and self-employed people, particularly those whose clientele comprise mostly Millennials and Gen-Zers.

Health professionals have been joining this trend of promoting their services on social media, and successfully so. Especially when it comes to the mental health department, memes and videos with mental health advice, emotional breakthroughs (also known as “My therapist said”) and words of encouragement have become extremely popular, and for a good reason. As therapy has gradually been destigmatized in recent years, people are realizing more and more that mental health is one of the most important elements of personal well-being. This is perhaps the zeitgeist of mental health.

Graduates of a Master of Science in Education – Counseling Clinical Mental Health Track online program understand this fully.

Navigating the Digital Space

However, as is the case with the majority of online content, the ethics surrounding social media use and therapy are still a bit grey. So-called “mental health influencers” are often not trained professionals themselves, and many make generalized statements for thousands of followers rather than pointing them to experts.

As Sarah Fielding from Verywell Mind explains, “Each person is unique, with their own personal history and complex array of emotions. While social media-featured mental health advice can make seemingly blanket statements about conditions that appear applicable to everyone, it’s far from one-size-fits-all.” The author points out that reading something that a reader can’t connect with may have the opposite effect and end up making the reader feel ever more isolated in their experience. When the information is broad enough, it can also do damage, as it’s up to the viewer to interpret the words of the “therapist” as they see fit. This feeds into a trend of self-diagnosis, which is quite dangerous and should be prevented at all costs. So how to navigate this world as a mental health professional who wants to have credibility?

The digital space makes providing helpful information to clients both easier and more complex. At the top of your list as a trained mental health counselor or therapist should be the following: privacy, confidentiality, consent and recordkeeping. While setting up your social media channel of choice, remember that likes, comments, locations and tags are often not private. Always choose professional language, especially when answering direct messages. On that note, you may also choose to disable direct messaging altogether, as it opens the door for personal involvement, lack of confidentiality as well as doing a lot of unpaid work.

Remember Your Target Audience

Making content that fits your practice is one of the best ways to reach potential new clients, but being very specific about who your target audience is will help keep you on track. Putting thought into each post and focusing on the language and imagery may also prevent you from posting something you’ll regret or get backlash for.

When it comes to existing, paying clients, make sure to set boundaries to separate personal from private. As Crystal Raypole points out in her article for GoodTherapy, “People often use social media accounts to share very revealing information about themselves. Having a client as a Facebook friend will give you the opportunity to see details about their life they may not share with you in therapy, which they may not have considered when sending you the friend request. They might also see details about your life you wouldn’t share within the therapeutic relationship. Having access to this level of detailed personal information can significantly affect the bond you have with your client — on both sides.”

Of course, it’s a personal choice whether to engage with a client in personal ways or not. But, however you choose to build you social media presence, the most important thing is to always be ethical and professional no matter what. An advanced degree in counseling and clinical mental health can equip you with the skills and foundation to navigate your career with confidence and integrity.

Learn more about the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s Master of Science in Education — Counseling Clinical Mental Health Track online program.

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